ELGIN - A state appeals panel has backed an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a Crystal Lake police officer who was initially fired for allegedly allowing an allegedly intoxicated driver to leave the scene of an accident.
The appeals panel, however, also upheld a McHenry County judge's denial of a union's request to impose sanctions on the city for the officer's termination, according to an opinion entered July 5 by the Illinois Second District Appellate Court.
Justice Robert Spence wrote the appeals court's decision, with Justices Donald Hudson and Mary Schostok concurring. The decision was issued as an unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23, which limits its use as precedent.
The appellate court's ruling followed an appeal filed by northwest suburban Crystal Lake and a cross-appeal from the defendant, the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, Chapter 177. Both parties appealed after an arbitrator reduced the punishment for Police Officer Adam Munaretto, who was fired after the city asserted he released a man from the scene of an accident, after the man had allegedly rear-ended another vehicle.
The opinion said the man was later charged with driving under the influence by another officer who stopped him less than 30 minutes later after his encounter with Munaretto. The second officer found the man’s blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
Munaretto was accused of not following protocol when he allegedly failed to ask the driver if he had been drinking and failed to conduct a sobriety test.
While the city ultimately decided to fire Munaretto, the arbitrator decided that move was excessive and instead changed the punishment to a 60-day suspension. In its decision, the arbitrator cited the fact that Munaretto had served 14 years on the Crystal Lake Police force, as well as his satisfactory performance over those years and his past enforcement rate for DUIs.
The city asked the circuit court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, arguing that the arbitrator went beyond his level of authority under Crystal Lake's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the police department, and had violated four public policies related to police officers' duties and their handling of apparent DUI incidents.
The city also said the CBA states that an arbitrator should not “amend, modify, nullify, ignore, add to or subtract from the provisions,” according to the appeals court's opinion.
Although it found that Munaretto didn’t adequately perform his duties, the circuit court agreed that termination was excessive. The circuit court also said it disagreed with the city's public policy argument.
The union requested sanctions and sought payment of attorney's fees and costs after the court denied the city's request to vacate the arbitrator's decision.
In its sanctions motion, the union said the city's case was only one of many in which employers tried to use an alleged violation of public policy in an attempt to overturn an arbitrator's decision.
The circuit court said in its ruling that the union should not be awarded sanctions simply because it does not believe the arbitrator's decision should be vacated.